Starbucks: A Fallen Empire?

Ouch, more bad news for our favourite coffee juggernaut. An article in Britain’s The Independant points to a recent consumer research test wherein Starbucks scored on the bottom of table for taste and quality among UK high street coffee chains. In other words, it’s overpriced, considering it’s not very good.

[Starbucks] offers blander drinks than its competitors Costa Coffee and Caffè Nero and is costlier than most rivals…Researchers also complained that the food offered at Starbucks was too fatty. Along with Costa Coffee, four of its sandwiches contained more than the 495 calories in a McDonald’s Big Mac.

Wow. I didn’t realise things were that bad. Starbucks is still the top dog among Britain’s coffee chains, but it will be interesting to see if drinkers migrate to other chains that score better.

Caffè Nero’s coffee was rated the best, earning … a rating of four out of five.

The article tells us more so head over and read more findings and further analysis.

Now, let’s take a look the competition from a design/identity point of view. Maybe that’s the problem?

Starbucks logo Starbucks‘ logo is classically American. The circular “seal” shape is seen as the marker of cities and states across North America, and that expansionist view carries it overseas. The green and black may not evoke thoughts of coffee, per se, but the association is powerful because of how much we’ve seen it. Easily spotted and recognised, this logo is strong where it counts.

Caffè Nero logo The Italian chain Caffè Nero sports an austere, but tidy logo. For me, the association isn’t particularly Italian and doesn’t evoke any relationship to the three strongest relics of Italy: Romans, Religion, and the Renaissance. Luckily, the deep greys and rich colours link the brand to the Italian appetite for design and high-quality luxury goods like cars, boots, suits and furniture. However, amid the chaos of London, this identity tends to fade into the background.

Costa logo Costa always struck me as very generic. With a circular seal-like logo, we can’t help but campare them to Starbucks. Of course in that case, the Costa mark looks bland in comparison. The word Coffee in big block letters tells us that those are supposed to be beans, but the image in the center still looks ambiguous and somewhat awkward. Do they even sell beans? The vaguely latin name makes us think the chain is Spanish or Italian or French, but there are no immediate visual elements to carry that out. In fact, I still don’t know. I’m not a fan of putting the established date on a logo unless you have 50+ years under your belt. True, 1971 was a generation ago, but that doesn’t make it a ‘heritage’ brand. In short, nothing special.

Pret a Manger logo Pret is a refreshing logo because it brings into play a shape to which consumers can attach the brand. The star isn’t necessarily French, but the typography certainly brings us back to the origins of Art Deco in post-WWI Paris. The clearly non-English name is bound to be shortened, and I’m glad that the short version has been accepted. The overall style is consistent and in spite of the funny name, Pret is a strong brand.

My results: Inconclusive. While Starbucks is overall the best-designed brand (inside and out), it isn’t a runaway, and none of the competitors is a Wal-Mart, where we scratch our heads and wonder why. I still credit the rise of Starbucks with their cups and with their straws, so it might be interesting to put the cups up against one another. That will require more research.

Your conclusions? Taste aside, what is the best coffee brand in Britain? Should we add a few names and do an American version? There’s your Master’s thesis right there.